Wisconsin Grocers Association
By Brandon Scholz, WGA President and CEO
For grocers, it has been an incredible gauntlet from the beginnings of the pandemic in 2022 to the peek over the 2023 precipice.
The challenges created for grocers and their suppliers as the pandemic lodged itself into the daily business operations have only continued to create hurdles for the industry.
As most grocery store shoppers know, not all shelves are full of their favorite products — shoppers have had to deal with substitutes or alternatives.
Throughout all these topsy-turvy, head-spinning challenges, there is one common denominator that bears most of the blame for what drives grocers crazy.
Simply put, there are not enough people available to fill the jobs open today, nor in the years to come. Reports have suggested the workforce population in Wisconsin is flat and likely to decline. Forward Analytics notes Wisconsin’s youth population has declined 4.3% since 2010 and says a decline in the state’s under-18 population will causes economic problems. That same report forecasts that by 2030, the working population will be down by 130,000 people.
Grocers, convenience stores, and retail businesses report there simply is not a pool of people in the workforce that can fill the gaps. And, for those who want to suggest otherwise that all is good because unemployment is low and UI applications are down, that’s not necessarily the case.
There are all sorts of reasons why the workforce is running on empty. During the pandemic, people chose not to work; were let go by employers who couldn’t keep their doors open; received state and federal assistance to make up for their non-employment status; as well as other factors.
Confounding the employment factor is the regressive impact of inflation that has chewed up most all the incredible and eye-popping increasing in wages and benefits.
Rolling into 2022, with the government giving assurances that the economy was in good shape (inflation not withstanding), the expectations were that people would come back to their jobs, or any job.
Not so. Didn’t happen. Not only did people not show up, but the pool of prospective employees was more like a very small pond.
The forecast for 2023 doesn’t look much better. You may find grocers taking down a checkout lane and adding a self-checkout stand to help their customers move through the end of their shopping experience.
What’s the solution? Wisconsin needs to bring people back to Wisconsin to work here. The question is how.
Let’s target quality of life issues in Wisconsin and focus legislative, employer, and community efforts on several key areas. Good businesses, strong communities, safe streets and less crime, daycare, housing, public transportation, and good schools are key components of attracting new workers to Wisconsin.
These changes will require funding solutions, regulatory relief, and legislative initiatives in local, county, and state governments.
Grocers and their customers are resilient. They’ve proved it since the pandemic started. It doesn’t mean that things are hunky dory, but we’re approaching critical mass. Changes must be made to solve our workforce crisis.
Winsight Grocery Business notes that inflation, technological advances, and the pandemic have influenced grocery shopper habits. It’s a common sight to see shoppers using smartphones to look up sales, product information, loyalty apps, and more.
While these changes have become common place for the customer, they are not long-term solutions for the retail world.
It starts with the workforce and quality of life.
The Wisconsin Grocers Association represents nearly 1,000 independent grocers, retail grocery chain stores, warehouses and distributors, convenience stores, food brokers, and suppliers. Wisconsin grocers employ over 50,000 people with more than $1 billion in payroll and generates more than $12 billion in annual sales in Wisconsin resulting in approximately more than $800 million in state sales tax revenue. Visit wisconsingrocers.com.